Women's barriers for contacting general practice when experiencing gynecological cancer symptoms: a population-based study

BMC Fam Pract. 2021 Aug 16;22(1):167. doi: 10.1186/s12875-021-01518-5.


Background: A prerequisite for general practitioners (GPs) being able to refer patients with gynecological cancer alarm symptoms for further investigations is that individuals present the symptoms to the GP. Not all symptoms are presented to the GP, and knowledge of barriers for healthcare-seeking is sparse. The aim of this study was to analyze associations between age, socioeconomic status, and common barriers ("being too embarrassed", "being too busy", "worried about wasting the doctors time" and "worried what the GP might find") towards GP contact with gynecological alarm symptoms.

Methods: Nationwide population-based study in Denmark based on a random sample of 51 090 women aged 20 years or older. A web-based questionnaire regarding experience of four predefined alarm symptoms of gynecological cancer, decisions about contact to GPs, and barriers towards GP contact was distributed. Information about socioeconomic status was collected from Statistics Denmark.

Results: A total of 26 466 women (54.5%) completed the questionnaire. The proportion of women with no contact to the GP varied between 64.6% and 78.1% for postmenopausal bleeding and pain during intercourse, respectively. Between 32.3% (bleeding during intercourse) and 45.3% (postmenopausal bleeding) of the women reported no barriers for GP contact. The proportions of reported barriers ranged from 7.5% for being too embarrassed (pelvic pain) to 26.8% for being too busy (bleeding during intercourse). Women aged 40-59 years had lower odds of reporting "being too embarrassed" and "worried about wasting the GP´s time", while women aged 60 + years of age had lower odds of reporting "being too busy" compared to the youngest age group. Women in the highest income groups had lower odds of reporting "being too embarrassed" and "wasting the GP´s time" compared to those with a low income, while those with high educational level had lower odds of reporting "being too embarrassed" and "worried what the GP might find" compared to those with low educational level.

Conclusions: More than half of the respondents with no contact to the GP, reported one or more barriers towards GP contact. Lower age and socioeconomic status were significantly associated with higher odds of reporting barriers. As this may explain the differences in healthcare seeking behavior, healthcare planners, policy makers and clinicians should be aware of these findings.

Keywords: Barriers; Gynecological cancer; Healthcare seeking; Socioeconomic status; Symptoms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • General Practice*
  • General Practitioners*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms*
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care
  • Surveys and Questionnaires